Wednesday, July 25, 2012

warhammer 40k vs warhammer fantasy:The Wonderful world of random

"You know the thing about chaos....Its fair"-Joker
    I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart.I love Random. Random is a wonderful thing to have in a game. If things were not random, you would have a gaming universe where things play out exactly the same every time. This would be so incredibly boring. You need a little random. Today, I want to discuss a bit of a cross over. I want to write more fantasy, but fantasy has its issues. The new edition of 40k has been released and I also want to talk about it. With my conflicting emotions, I have decided to do a comparison. I often play both, but not as much as I would like I admit. I want to compare the two systems and how they handle random things. 40k has had little experience with random and there have been some problems with people wanting to integrate randomness into game play. People often are resistant to change, but should we be resistant to this change? Fantasy is a game fraught with random. Anything and everything can happen. One action can see your face getting bit off by a shrubbery and the other can see a bush be the most power magical stuff in the game.  It has problems with competitive play for this very reason. Someone could walk into a victory over random. Is this a bad thing? Let the comparison begin. We will discuss core mechanics first.
Mechanical explanation
     There is a method to random. Without an element of random, things will stagnate quickly. It would turn into a game of rock, paper, scissors. You could define play purely through mathematics without any chance for variable. At the same time ,You can't just have random without control. There must be a limit. There is one easy way to do random. Random must not define someones actions, but instead be a result of it. When someones action is defined by random, they don't have power or at least they don't feel like they do. This is bad. Its often why snipers in video games are so hated. People feel like their death was of no result of their own. It can leave players feeling powerless and unskilled no matter how good they actually are. This is the bad type of random. It is often a direct result of bad game design. It isn't done on purpose, it is often done for a feel good action. It doesn't seem well thought out, but instead seems like an add on. Often, you can play without it and it will either keep the game the same or even make the game better. The good type of random is when you let players do action and then have random things happen as a result. This empowers the player and allows people to feel in control. Any result of your actions are your own or your opponents. Anything that happens isn't so much up to fate, but up to the players, yet it adds variety to each action.
Add caption

    In a nut shell, Rock beats scissors a lot of the time, but rock can lose due to random rolls in the bad type of random. The good type of random sees Rock beat scissors a lot of the time, but when rock loses, its because one player skill has often put the odds to win in their favors.  Even the most simple games have the good type of random. Time for the old fall back.
good ole fallback
    Monopoly has the good type of random in it. Random rolling results in where you land, which adds variety to the game as you can't land on the property you want unless you land on it. Your action is defined by the player in between moving. You buy houses/hotels and trade with players. You define action rather than let play be defined by random. Some machinations of fate are unstoppable in random, but they are much, much harder to have happen when random is done well. Sure, you can land on both dark blue properties in a row with hotels that will cost you more money than god, but it happens so rarely, that it almost isn't an issue. You must look at the usual instead of the extremes. Sure the extreme exists, but the odds of such things are rare.
warhammer 40k random.
   Warhammer 40k has the good type of random in it. You have to move onto or in mysterious things. You don't ever have to move into/onto these things except for objectives. Even though objectives are mysterious, you will find that only 1 result is bad and all other results either don't matter or are a good benefit. You can premeasure so that you can always define your random. Even random charge lengths are chosen actions by the player and with the addition of premeasuring, you will find that they aren't that bad.  On top of these random rules often being a result of the player, you find often find that random that isn't in the players control is either not a factor most of the time or is a factor that is very hard to not have both players be effected. This is especially true in 6th edition. Night fight can randomly happen a lot now. Not only does it effect both players, but it is clearly defined. Random game length is an amazing thing. It is random, but it effects both players forcing them to keep on their game while being clearly defined. It has no complications and is just a simple die roll.

      In 5th, we all suffered from uncontrolled random of things like night fight, vehicle damage tables, and  no premeasuring. Night fight was just so random before that it was never viable. You could chose to shoot, but your actions wouldn't happen randomly.  While you got to chose what you do, Randomness determined your action. Sure, I chose to shoot a squad that deepstriked and were bunched up 9 inches away during night fight with a doomsday cannon. That is a definite action, but it didn't happen because random roll saw snake eyes and no shooting. Now night fight is better since it is very defined and not so much random any more.  Vehicle damage was another one that was random to the point of not being effective. There became a point in which you have so many chances for random that its difficult to achieve anything. You had to hit, roll to penetrate/glance, roll cover/saves, roll on the damage chart. the average to hit is at bs4. so 2/3rds of your shots hit. we will say even a lascannon against a chimera front armor. av 12 sees us needing 4's to penetrate. You pen half the time. down to 1/3rd combined chance. cover saves! half save results in down to 1/6th. ap 2 weapons don't get editions to the damage table, so to kill, you have a 1/18th chance to wreck/explode a vehicle in cover. Now with the addition of hull points, you will find that even with a 1 in 18 chance to wreck/explode a vehicle, it takes at most 3 pens/glance to kill that same chimera. I had an experience where 10 glances and pens didn't stop a rampaging defiler. Finally, on the 11-14th pen (gauss weapons are nasty), I got a single immobilize. I didn't even destroy it, I just stopped it. Sure, this example is an extreme, but that is what hull points was designed to stop. These extremely random actions . This is a good design decisions.
    Fantasy has its random too. Its the random that I  hate. You have random charge distance which is OK until you throw in their movement value which results in possibly 20 inch charges (which I have had happen often), but there is one defining random moment that breaks the entire game for me. There is a single phase based on a single 2 dice roll. These two dice, define a 4th of the game. that poor magic phase can make or break any game. I have lost games because I rolled low for my magic. I played everything the way I should have and as a result, I couldn't overcome the random. It truly was a decision made for me. To make matters worse, while mysterious terrain is good and controlled in 40k as it either barely hurts you or is a benefit, terrain in fantasy can destroy people. Fantasy terrain has no real balance. I once had zombies fight witch elves. I was gonna get slaughtered. They were there to tarpit. We fought by a mysterious piece of terrain. on the charge, it turns out to be a charnel pit. Gives my zombies a 6+ save and reduced my opponents leadership by 1. He promptly failed every LD test there after and a sure fire zombie massacre turned into a long, drawn out fight which the zombies won. This is the problem with fantasy random. It is a world of Extremes. It enjoys the filth that is these extremes. You can't have stuff like this. It is simply bad design. It doesn't reward skilled play often because things are so out there. You could roll up on anything and become doomed or incredibly awesome for no reason. I play fantasy for the fluff. On top of this, some of the USR are rare to have happen, yet when they do, they just break people. I had one game where I had killing blow on horses and a chariot. It was a fluffy, yet tough, expensive choice. It was fun until a single 6 to wound saw the general of my opponents army get kicked in the head and killing blowed. My skill did nothing, yet resulted in a huge gain. Even when entire units gain this rule, you can't reliably use this rule. It just randomly happens. I don't play competitively and even I was annoyed with the some of these random things. I felt like I cheated my friend because I rolled that pit for zombies and steam rolled him over a single dice roll or an important person gets dead because they had something explode them for no reason. This is bad design.
The magic circles
    My opinion is that 40k has better elements of random than fantasy does. 40k's random elements are much more mild and often result in the reduction of extremely random things. Fantasy's random elements actually encourage the extremely random. Play just gets out there when things go to the extreme. It becomes defining rather the a simple addition to the rules. One of my favorite quotes describes this idea. "When everyone is super, no one will be"-Syndrome.  Even when you encourage extreme play like fantasy does, because it always does so, you will find that extreme is the norm. It gets sad. Random should never dominate play and that is why I consider 40k to be better.

Back to the grind

Hey folks Bob here. Sorry for the long delay in posting. I have been in France for the past few weeks doing some archaeology for school purposes. Blood on the Kitchen Table part 2 will be up by the end of the week for those who are interested in seeing the bloodbath that battle devolved into. Also either this Thursday or Friday I will have some thoughts and a battle report up for my first game with 6th edition 40k. Hopefully now that jet lag has worn off and I have some free time I will get back into a semi regular pattern of posting.

Happy gaming!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Board game in review: Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror
    Today, I want to discuss one of my favorite board games. It is a board game about one of my favorite genre. Its a genre that few people try to capture in board game form because its incredibly difficult. It requires an incredible amount of difficulty yet you have to keep the ability to win just close enough to the player that they feel they can still win. It requires immersion into a world that should be foreign yet universal in feel. You often have to play a regular person thrust into a setting that is both crazy, yet set in some form of reality for the immersion to happen. This board game genre is the Horror genre. Arkham Horror is a board game that  exemplifies the Genre. It is based of the literary works of  H.P. Lovecraft. I will discuss the basics of the game and some of the more interesting features of this game.
   This may get long winded. If you want to the good,bad, and wierd, go to "get on with it!"
     Before I get into the game, I want to talk a little bit about the setting of this game. Its 1920's Boston area. That is as much of reality as this game is set in. The crazy section of this game is that Elder gods are slowly waking up and want nothing more then to destroy humanity as we know it because they have nothing better to do. Each god has his own story, his own motivation, and his own powers and advantages. Each one brings an element to the game that both defines fluff for the game as well as actual in game mechanics. Luck of the draw is important here because sometimes, the ridiculousness of some of these gods comes through. On god literally states, "When summoned, you and all the investigators lose." His attack is "The End is Near!". So the setting can be crazy, but is often grounded in reality.
    For this game to work, you need to have clearly defined methods for play and the currency used. Each player selects a character with a slider for stats. Each character sheet has a special rule most of the time. The stats are speed/sneak, fight/will, Lore/luck. Right out of the gate, we are faced with a decision. The higher one stat is, the lower the other stat is. If you have high speed, you probably aren't going to sneak for crap. The harder you fight, the easier you are to scare. The more you know, the less chance of lucky things happening. All these stats won't cripple you, but they can be difficult to overcome as you only have a set limit that you can change these skills each turn. The In-game currency you use is sanity, Stamina, money, gate tokens,clue tokens, and Monster Trophies. Sanity and stamina are your life. If you lose sanity (which can be done through casting spells, certain events cards,  or failing fear checks from monsters), you go to the insane asylum. If you lose all of your stamina( through damage from monsters and events cards), you go back to the hospital. If either of these happen, you lose a turn but regain all of the lost currency. Money is a currency that you gain through special rules such as trust fund special rule from the character sheet or you become a deputy which nets you 1$ a turn. Gate tokens are the currency you gain when you close a gate (will be discussed later). Clue tokens allow you to reroll one dice and with 5 you can seal a gate and make sure that a gate can never open at that location again. Monster toughness is the currency you obtain when you kill a monster. The tougher the monster the more it is worth.  Now that we have that out of the way, lets get into game play.
set up and a turn!
    You set the game up first by draw the elder god. These range from really weak gods to gods that can't be balanced. There is an elder god of "You Lose". After that, each player draws 3 face down character sheets and picks the one they want. You then get common items, spells, unique items, and skills that are associated with that character. Clue tokens are set up for players to go get and risk being sucked into another world.  Your character sheet has a starting location on the board. Place players, and its game time. Each player moves to a location that is within their speed. Then a gate randomly opens up on the board and kicks out a number of monsters based on the amount of players. You have to go around and close these gates or else bad things happen. At the end of the turn, each player gets a card from the color group for where they are. Each card has 2-3 different things that can happen based specificly where they are. When a player gets to a gate, they flip over the gate token to reveal which other world they go to. You have to travel through that world where you get effects that could be good or bad. There is one other world deck and you draw till you get the matching color. When you get out, the gate closes if you pass a lore check.  You have to close gates or else summon the elder god and fight him. If you lose, you are devoured. Devoured is permanent death. You win if you beat the elder god, seal ports equal to the number of players, or close every portal on the board( At least equal to the number of players.)

Quick! Get on with it!

I had to make the reference
 The Good
  • The game is incredibly fun and always worth a play. The amount of variety that can be had due to the utter randomness of the game is awesome.
  • The game is balanced to the point of being difficult to pick up and master, yet rewarding enough that you want to master it. 
  • Its difficult. Short and simple. This game was first described to me as a game you don't win. You just do better each time you play. 
  • Rich and full of character. There are books upon books about anything in the board game. As someone who has read a few of the books, I spot references all the time. We have people read their card to add to the fun.
  • Tons of viable methods for play. You aren't railroaded into any particular method for play. 
  • Nothing is more fun then watching other people get beat on. because there are more than a few people playing, you get to watch more bad for other people, than  bad for you.  We have people read their card to add to the fun.
  • Even though the game kills you, stomps you into the ground, and asks if you want seconds, It gives you the chance for seconds. Death isn't as permanent as it usually is. Even if devoured(Permanent death) you simply start a new character
  • Tons of expansions that are full of more awesome.
Bad guys never win....unless this is a horror story

The Bad
  • While the game is fun, it is long. You have to have people willing to stay the haul or else people get lost coming in.Also, randomness can backlash against a player with nothing they can do.
  • The game is almost too balanced. The group I started with missed one rule and the game was pretty easy. We haven't lost yet although its been tough and close many times. The group I found to play now has beat the game 4 times in 3 years of play. They missed one rule (a primary rule for how to get gate trophies which are the easiest currency to attain) and the game was nearly impossible. 
  • You probably should have a veteran assist you in playing for the first time. Like the article so far, set up and getting things ready to start that if you don't know what you are doing, you could take an hour or two to set up.
  • Rich and full of character can be simply to much for some people. Some people play the game to win. A lot can be missed
  • Tons of viable play methods can result in a steep learning curve for new players.
  • There are alot of methods to stop players. Gate opens in the area you are standing on, get sucked in and lose a turn. Die? lose a turn. die in another world? get sucked into a special spot on the board that makes you lose a turn, then come back and lose a turn. It can avalanche quickly.
  • expansions cost money
and the....Holy crap, there was a south korean version of this and it was awesome? Sweet.

The Weird?
  • Oddly enough, as hard core as this game is, it is a beer and pretzels game. You can't take it to seriously or else you won't play this game. 
  • When the world is strange, strange and awesome/dreadful things happen. They are cinematic just from the feel. You can take a character and play them any way you want and even give life to a piece of card stock. 
  •  While things can come from out of the imagination of one of the best horror writers ever (I love H.P. Lovecraft) , things are firmly planted in reality enough to not feel out of place. 
  • The game takes bad things and horrible timing and devastating effects and makes them fun.

Overall, the game is fun. Play it for yourself. It is worth a hefty price tag, but you get a ton of stuff. Its a game I want to play with all of my friends. You need the standard arkham horror set to play. It runs about 60$ and it is well worth it. More sets give you more cards and can even expand the rules. If you can find someone that has it, definitely ask to play. You want 3-5 players. It is about a 4 hour game. Get it. Try it. You wont be disappointed most of the time. Have fun and happy gaming. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

morale and you part 2

Opening picture will be described later

   After my last article about player morale, I decided to follow this article up on how to take advantage of the idea of player moral. The problem with this is that its very difficult to reliably do so. In any game, putting odds in your favor is the name of the game, but to put the very moral of any player into your hands is another matter entirely. You must consider statistically bad decisions and figure out what is going to hurt a person the most. Let me tell you a little story of one of my favorite games to elaborate this
Monopoly, the Destroyer of Families

   I had a friend who would break down everything into numbers. He was the guy at monopoly who would be a dick because he could. Playing with the man was insufferable. You would be insulting him if you offered anything for the best section in the game. These Orange spaces had the best Investment/pay out ratio in the game and people always landed on them. If he had the luck, you couldn't beat him most of the time. You had to break his spirit. You had to take bad decisions and beat him with them. You needed a way and I found one. I would buy board walk and park place. These two squares had some of the worst investment/pay out ratios and that you find people rarely land on them. You hotel them (which is almost always a bad idea) and he lands on one, he will almost always bankrupt. Even if he doesn't, he will panic and make even worse decisions that will result in him losing.  This is player morale at its most pure. Statistically, on paper, his decisions were better than mine. In the game, I could take him more often then not. This leads to a disclaimer at the end of this article. It will be worth it to keep reading

    In this article I will talk about two of the main methods that I have run across in order to take advantage of player morale. These are not the only ways, but ways I have found through gaming my entire life. The concept stretches across all games and ideas. You can put these into practice for more the table top games. There are two main methods for taking advantage. The first and most constructive method to advantageous moral is unpredictability.
The only thing statistically predictable is how unpredictable statistics can be.
   Through unpredictability, we find our first advantage. Using this aspect, you can railroad people. In my last article on the subject, I asked for tales of the worst game ever. People remember bad a lot better then people remember good. When outliers happens through such large numbers that its difficult to predict things, you find people get taken advantage of rather easily.  The above picture is how I run my orks. I am the challenge. I have become very good with my orks. The element of uncertainty has seen entire flanks fold beneath a squad of lucky boys. The look on someones face when you make 4 6+ armor saves to win combat and turn the tide of a battle is priceless. For every good, there must be a bad though. (Yin-Yang). For however unpredictable your good can be, often you will find that they pendulum swings in the opposite direction as well. You must realize this and not let such things effect your player morale. I know my orks will do bad sometimes. I have seen a squad of 20 boys do 4 wounds on the charge. You can't let that stop you. I have seen 20 boys kill 10 marines on the charge as well. Here is the key element. Like I previously said, people remember bad over good. Push their bad. That is the first method for player morale. You see it quite often. You know the guy who takes one lascannon and blows up a land raider before the game is over. One lucky shot can start the avalanche.  I have played orks long enough that all the random that is 6th edition doesn't effect me because I already had way more random things then this edition can bring.
Now for something I am not proud of
   Its time for how to take advantage of player morale aspect two. I don't like this one. It hasn't made me many friends. In fact, if it wasn't a good friend, I tried never to do this. It started with a list I wanted to take to a tournament while 5th edition was still good to see how it would do. The problem was that it did entirely to well in the player morale department. It went undefeated from necron codex to 6th where it was promptly retired. It was on the edge of being retired, but when 6th launched, I wanted something different. I am talking about the Terrain manipulation list. Everything was bad for my opponent. That is aspect two. Death by a thousand stumbles. You give your opponent every opportunity you can to force a stumble. You wear and tear and bump and poke and prod until something falters. It is the wrench in the plans of anyone. The more chances people have to fail, the more people fail. People don't remember when their death star punches some poor group of guys in the face. People remember that one time that they failed so spectacularly and lose  games because of it. That one failed moment where things go bad haunt people. It messes with them. The first time I saw this effect was when I played a spacewolf death star from hell. 3 wolf lords on thunderwolves with frost blade,fist, hammer, and all storm shields, with 2 fen wolves each, with saga of king, warrior, bear respectively. This trio of nasty was in 5 thunderwolves with storm shields. I was playing old necrons with the deciever. I wasn't a cheese-less list, but he reeked of cheese when he walked in the door. He also had 3x6 long fangs. That tells you enough. In our first game, his star was pinned by the deciever even with a rerollable leadership of 10. After that, he chased that deciever with everything he was worth. One bad moment haunted his play for the rest of the night. The Yin-Yang of this is that people remember bad over good. More bad=less fun for people. If you have more bad than good, you will find that people don't want to play. It sucks.

cause everything needs more orks.
   The basic idea is that you find your own method of player morale advantage. You gotta go out and find it yourself. I can only point the way. I found my methods and I will only ever really use one. I explained how unpredictability can be advantageous, but I had to warn that the coin of unpredictability has two sides. I also explained how death by a thousand stumbles was a good method to causing advantageous player morale, but at the same time, it really messes with and annoys people. I hope this gets you all thinking. Have fun and happy wargamming.